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How to Be Your Best in Virtual Meetings

In 2018, we saw that 5.3% of Americans (that’s more just over eight million people) worked from home. Who knows what the statistic will look like for 2020 because of COVID-19. With the pandemic forcing the majority of the population to work from home, video conferences and meetings are the new norm.

But communication tactics that worked in-person might not be suitable for our reality. West Coast Careers recommends perceiving virtual meetings as a completely different context, no longer an in-person meeting or “session on a screen”.

Elevating both your purpose and presence in a virtual meeting requires not only engaging in specific tactics, but it also avoids potentially detrimental misconceptions about the medium.

To help keep your impact actual when your presence is virtual, take note on our recommendations.

1. Focus on your camera, not your colleagues

This is probably the most common behavior people fall into a habit of. Every presentation coach will tell you that direct eye contact is how you reinforce your point. Especially in a virtual meeting. This means not looking at the smiling faces of Melanie or Marcus. Speaking into the cold black circle that is your camera lens isn’t comfortable. That’s because humans are trained to look at the person we’re talking to. However, this rule no longer applies in the virtual world. If you want to see an expert execute this behavior, just watch a politician or entertainer, they’ve been looking into the dark void for years.

It’s going to be challenging to focus on your camera for a whole meeting, especially while others are talking. Just know that you increase your purpose and presence when you embrace the void.

2. Maintain a Strong Voice

Strong voices are audible, convey authority, are credible, and confident. This is just as true in a virtual setting. So even though you’re using a microphone of some type, don’t fall into the habit of maintaining a conversational volume as if you were at work. Act as if you’re talking in a large conference room.

Using a loud voice will also keep you from mumbling and speaking too quickly.

3. Frame Yourself Appropriately

Proximity plays a major role in a virtual setting. When you’re farther away or more obscured in the camera, the less engaging you will be. Your head and top of your shoulders should dominate the screen.

If your head is cut off at the top or bottom, you’re too close. If your entire torso is in the frame, you’re too far away.

Backgrounds, always be mindful of them. Cluttered rooms are an invitation to be judged as disorganized. Distracting elements disengage others from you. Find a place where your background is simple to convey professionalism.

Finally, preparation is critical. Take time before a meeting to pick your location and put your head in frame to put your best self forward right when the meeting starts.

4. Be Present and Mindful

In a pre-coronavirus world, people would be very mindful of their physical presence during a meeting. But in a virtual meeting when you’re muted, it’s easy to forget you’re still being watched. You may be tempted to multitask which can lead you to being unprepared if asked a sudden question.

Even if you don’t need to be fully engaged in a meeting, your reputation can suffer even if it looks like you aren’t paying attention. So close the windows, put your phone away, and remember that you are always being watched.

5. Don’t Be Your Own Distraction

In an in-person meeting, you don’t have to worry about talking while muted, random ambient noise, or pets and children coming to distract you. But this is now the reality of work. Your job is to make sure you’re remembered for doing things right, not making things wrong. So be mindful of the power you have over your virtual and physical environment.

Start by training yourself to stay on mute whenever you’re not speaking and only unmute yourself to speak. Pro tip that most people aren’t aware of on Zoom: you can hold down the space bar to unmute and re-mute yourself. Staying on mute shuts out random noise that you may not even be aware of. The last thing you want is to be on the recieving end of an embarrassing “you’re on mute Jeff!”

Make sure to turn off your camera when you’re doing something visually distracting as well. So turn it off before you do something like walk into another room or eat.

Finally, if your kid or cat wants to participate in your call, your colleagues most likely can relate. So don’t guilt trip yourself when it happens. However, if you’re assigned to give a major presentation, then you should probably plan out how they won’t distract you. Have someone else supervise them or give them an activity to do.

6. Use the Chat Window

The chat window is not only a discussion platform, it’s a presentational appendage. When you refer to something, link it to the chat. If you’re running a meeting, put the agenda or a link to it in the chat. When others speak, respond with statements or questions there too. The chat window is a source of multiple communication tools and a unique platform we’re not used to. Utilizing it to your advantage will elevate your presence, add dimensions to your ideas, and demonstrate that you’re technically skilled and engaged.

Whether you’re a pre-pandemic virtual meeting user or just started last week, it’s important to realize that a virtual meeting isn’t just a call over video – it’s an entirely new interactive experience. Meaning, it’s going to require your attention, personality, and tactics to make it work for you.

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Information provided by Joel Schwartzberg.